Number of Plural Wives


Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other polygamists leaders never taught that more wives brings greater exaltation. Yet, many modern polygamists seem to have embraced this notion.

Polygamists today generally believe that the more wives a man marries on earth, the greater his exaltation.  Lorin Woolley declared: “To be the head of a Dispensation, 7 wives [are] necessary. [To be the head of] the Patriarchal Order must have 5 wives. [To be] President of the Church – 3 wives [are necessary].”[1]  Warren Jeffs is said to have more than seventy wives and it is known that he married several of his father’s (Rulon Jeffs) wives shortly after his father’s death in 2002.  The Allreds, LeBarons, Kingstons, and essentially all fundamentalists seem to hold true to this notion.

In contrast, Church leaders have never taught that a man gains an eternal advantage by acquiring as many wives as possible.  During the period when polygamy was commanded (1852 to 1890), full compliance occurred when the man took a second wife.  Marrying a third or fourth wife was not necessary.[2]  In a letter to a Mormon bishop dated May 22, 1888, then Church President Wilford Woodruff explained: “You ask some other questions concerning how many living wives a man must have to fulfill the law.  When a man, according to the revelation, married a wife under the holy order which God has revealed and then married another in the same way… so far as he has gone he has obeyed the law.  I know of no requirement which makes it necessary for a man to have three living wives at a time.”[3]

When Joseph C. Kingsbury was asked if Joseph Smith taught him “that a man could not be exalted in the hereafter unless he had more wives than one,” Kingsbury replied:  “No sir.  He did not teach me that.  He did not say anything about that.”[4]  Kingsbury also recalled:  “I heard it preached from the stand that a man could be exalted in eternity with one wife.”[5] Similarly when Brigham Young was asked:  “How general is polygamy among you?”  He responded:  “I could not say.  Some of those present (heads of the Church) have each but one wife; others have more.  Each determines what is his individual duty.”[6]

It appears that the commandment to practice plural marriage between 1852 and 1890 was a singular directive given at a unique time and place with blessings attached.  God’s blessings flowed from obedience, not as some magical benefit from the practice of polygamy.  Even during the 1852 to 1890 period, Church leaders did not encourage men to accumulate wives and offspring as they might amass wealth or property in the interest of some eternal advantage.

[1] Quoted in Joseph White Musser, “Book of Remembrance,” 21, holograph, n.d., photocopy in my possession; see also Items from a Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser (n.p.: Privately published, n.d.), 16. See also Moroni Jessop, Testimony of Moroni Jessop (N.p.: Privately published, n.d.), 2, photocopy in my possession. Wives are said to become jewels in the crowns of their husbands.

[2] D&C 132:19 promises godhood, exaltation, and a “continuation of the seeds” when “a man marries a wife” (monogamously) and they live worthily.

[3] President Wilford Woodruff  to Samuel Amos Woolley, fourth Bishop of the Ninth Ward, Salt Lake City, private letter dated May 22, 1888.  Copy of typescript in possession of the author.

[4] Joseph Kingsbury, Testimony at the Temple Lot Case, part 2, page 225, questions 1028-1029.

[5] Joseph Kingsbury, Testimony at the Temple Lot Case, part 2, page 205, question 600.

[6] Horace Greeley, An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859. New York: H. H. Bancroft & Co., 1860, reprinted with Charles T. Duncan ed., New York: Ballantine Books, 1963, 138.